The new head of Interpol must continue reforms
GIVEN China’s repeated attempts to reach beyond its borders to nab dissidents, it is concerning that the new president of Interpol, Meng Hongwei, was previously a top Chinese security official. But around when Meng was selected to head Interpol, the 190-nation police cooperation organisation endorsed badly needed procedural changes to better protect against abuse of its notification system by countries attempting to press politically motivated prosecutions.
Interpol, based in Lyon, France, is a network of police forces, and its information sharing has often meant quick action against suspected terrorists, criminals and fugitives. But the organisation has been strongly criticised in recent years for serving as the handmaiden to repressive regimes such as Russia, China and others who used the system to go after political foes, including dissidents, human rights activists, journalists and businesspeople. A related problem has been the extreme difficulty faced by people who are wrongly included on Interpol lists and want to be removed from a designation that can have debilitating consequences to reputations and to the ability to travel.
Interpol circulates what are called “red notices” at the request of a member country seeking to help catch a fugitive, and it also shares “diffusions”, which are less formal and are intended to request the arrest or location of a person, or to acquire more information for a police investigation. Interpol’s constitution says it is “strictly forbidden” to intervene in political affairs, and that it must carry out its work “in the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. But as the number of red notices has skyrocketed in the past decade, so have complaints about abuses. A nongovernmental organisation, Fair Trials, based in Britain, charged in a study three years ago that Interpol’s protections against abuse were “ineffective”, and declared just recently that it is “too easy for countries to use Red Notices as political tools to persecute refugees, journalists, and activists beyond their own borders”.
In recent years, Interpol has begun to respond to the complaints. A policy put in place two years ago has better shielded refugees. On November 9, the group’s General Assembly, meeting in Bali, Indonesia, backed reforms of its information systems. These will restructure the part of Interpol that handles requests for red notices and diffusions to make sure they are in compliance with Interpol’s own rules, and also will help those who want to appeal or delete data in the system. While all the details are not yet clear, the steps are promising. Interpol’s secretary general, Jürgen Stock, has repeatedly emphasised the importance of protecting human rights as well as law enforcement.
Whatever views Meng brings from his experience in repressive China, he must not brake the Interpol reform effort, and should accelerate the pace of change. It is the right thing do to in principle, and also right for pragmatic reasons. Interpol will be strengthened if it spends less time issuing red notices for dissidents and more time in the pursuit of real criminals.
– The Washington Post